IT'S IN THE BLOOD
Cris DeRose chats with Writer/Director Scott Leberecht, Producer Matt Compton and Executive Producer Eduardo Sanchez of the vampire flick Midnight Son.
With the constant "spectacle above substance" approach constantly shoved towards the average moviegoer, complete with stunt casting, a committee of suits who think they're writers, and more Surprise rather than Scary Factor, it's refreshing when small-budget films like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity get the attention they deserve. They hearken back to a time when horror meant thrills, creepiness, and God forbid, a story that produces characters unique and true to themselves.
Thus, Writer/Director Scott Leberecht conceived Midnight Son, and through the collaboration and help of Producer Matt Compton and some guy named Eduardo Sanchez (Executive Producer) who co-created The Blair Witch Project, they were able to give us the viewer a small-budget horror film that has its head tilted just a little off to the side...
Horror Garage: The cinematic representation of claustrophobic isolation is especially dynamic. Was that an intentional aspect of the cinematography?
Scott Leberecht: Feeling the walls closing in on Jacob was something Lyn Moncrief (Director of Photography) and I definitely wanted to achieve. We selected framing that creates a claustrophobic effect, but we also chose locations that were going to box us in and naturally limit our options. I would say most of it was intentional, but there were definitely times we had no choice.
Eduardo Sanchez: This was definitely one of the aspects that originally drew me into this film after I saw some raw footage of what Scott and Lyn had shot. They were smart with their angles and locations choices, showing us just enough to make the world work but not over-reaching, which is what a lot of really low budget films do, mostly to their detriment.
HG: What prompted the specific use of the Fright Night clip as Jacob researches what vampires are?
Scott Leberecht: I am a sick fan of that film, and I think I watched it a hundred times as a kid. When I was writing the bit where Jacob researches and tests his "vampirism," I thought of the scene where Evil Ed is burned by the crucifix. There are a lot of vampire films that have this moment, but Fright Night felt best for us. There is a campy, funny quality to it that contrasted with, and gave some relief to, the heavy tone of Midnight Son. There was talk of casting a couple actors and shooting a similar scene, which would have been cheaper than securing rights, but ultimately I felt he needed to watch a real vampire film -- something that exists in our world, to ground it in a reality the audience could relate to.
Eduardo Sanchez: This was one of the first things we told Scott that we'd have to cut out when Matt and I first came on board. There was no way we were going to be able to afford this clip from Fright Night. But Scott insisted, found out that the numbers weren't that crazy and we ended up keeping the clip, which in the end, really adds a lot to the film. It's Scott's tip of the hat to a solid classic.
HG: What led to the decision to have vampirism as a disease in the movie?
Scott Leberecht: Truth is, I never really set out to make a vampire movie. It just became the perfect vehicle for a story I wanted to tell about a young man coping with his transformation into something he believes is "wrong" or "evil." Treating it as a congenital illness -- rather than an infection by some outside organism -- played into the idea of my character being antagonized by his own body. Events like puberty, sexual attraction, and falling in love are all things that happen to us from the inside out. We generally dislike being at the mercy of anything, but when the thing we don't want emanates from within, our self-image shatters. We must cope with a new set of rules, and our identity is temporarily on hold. These are very scary moments in life, and it is always what I wanted to explore.
Eduardo Sanchez: It's what I really love about the film and why I was so intrigued when I first read the script. There's never the obligatory "fun being a vampire" section that most vampire stories have. In fact, the only character that seems to relish it is the main bad guy in the film, and that kind of morality was what I liked in the script and now in the film. It's a disease, and that's why we really feel for Jacob. It's the glue that holds the story together.
HG: The chemistry between Zak Kilberg and Maya Parish is remarkable from their first meeting onscreen. How did you find these two?
Scott Leberecht: I saw Maya Parish in a short film directed by a colleague while attending the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. At the time, I was writing Midnight Son, and thought she could be right for the role of Mary. I approached her after the screening, and said I may have a part for her. Years later, I sent her the script. She loved it and agreed to play the part. Zak Kilberg was led to a website I created early on to raise awareness and support as I we neared production. He sent me a headshot and I thought he looked perfect for the lead role. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and he was in LA. He then shot a video, acting in a scene I had written. I loved it, and wanted to meet him. After that meeting, I knew he was right for the role and didn't bother to audition anyone else. As far as their chemistry goes, I like to think there was some weird metaphysical harmony at work.
HG: Matt, Ed, how did you discover Scott's work?
Matt Compton: Ed approached me about it. He had read the script and seen a little bit of footage, and liked both. He asked me if I'd be interested in coming on as Producer, while we would be an Executive Producer (along with friend and colleague Reed Frerichs).
I read the script, and thought it was quite original. I had never seen a vampire story told that way before. Ed, Scott and I met for lunch one day in LA, and he showed us some of the dailies. The cinematography looked really good, and the acting was great. I felt like he had something special here, and I wanted to be a part of it. Almost three years later, here we are with a finished movie. It's feels great to finally be able to show it to audiences after so much work!
Eduardo Sanchez: I was mixing Seventh Moon at Skywalker Sound and one of the sound editors, David Hughes, approached me about this cool film he was working on, Midnight Son. He thought it was really special, so he got Scott and me hooked up. I read the script, saw the footage and was sold.
That's when I contacted Matt Compton and Reed Frerichs to see if they wanted to help and they were impressed with it just like I was. Matt came on as a full producer, and Reed and I became executive producers, and the rest is history.
HG: The soundtrack is spacious. What led to the decision to take that approach?
Scott Leberecht: Kays Alatrakchi is a brilliant musician. This was our first time working together, and I learned a lot from him. His instinct to keep the music spacious turned out to be exactly the right approach. In order to achieve realism, we shot using a somewhat documentary style, so the score had to exist in a space between the lines -- on an almost unconscious level -- but it also had to be powerful enough to elicit an emotional reaction. The ability to create music that stands alone, supports a narrative, and somehow does not call attention to itself is big challenge. Kays is one of the hardest working artists I've met in a long time. He embraced this challenge with a truckload of ideas and the courage to walk that tightrope.
Eduardo Sanchez: Kays is someone Matt and I knew from back in the day in Orlando. He's a great guy and a very talented composer. I think he hit a home run with this score, probably my favorite of his work. Like Scott said, it's just the right mixture of subtlety and power.
HG: Scott, Your appreciation for David Lynch is obvious in Midnight Son. Do you have a favorite film of his?
Scott Leberecht: I do appreciate Lynch. I would say my favorite movie of his is Blue Velvet.
HG: Judging by his apartment, Jacob's a reader... what's on his shelf and why?
Scott Leberecht: I imagine Jacob reads a lot of fantasy, adventure and science fiction -- Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, Terry Brooks -- anything to escape his lonely, sedentary life. I also imagine he has a lot of pornographic magazines and adult comic books. His favorite would probably be Ripple by Dave Cooper.
HG: How did you choose which things could or couldn't harm someone in Jacob's condition? For instance, a cross won't, but sunlight is fatal. They do not have superhuman strength, but their will to live is... well, paranormal.
Scott Leberecht: I don't think Jacob's will to live is paranormal. He just has to do what he must to survive. He is very mortal, and has been thrown a new set of rules to cope with, as a mortal. Writing draft after draft of the screenplay made me realize that anything that made it cool to be a vampire had to go. I kept the blood and sunlight problems because those are the two things I personally would hate to deal with on a daily basis. I believe my unconscious goal was to make the audience feel like they've been lied to all these years, and that being a vampire would, in reality, suck.
Eduardo Sanchez: Like I said earlier, in Midnight Son, vampirism is a disease, a sickness that has to be dealt with like any other attack on the body. It was a great choice that Scott made during the process, a completely realistic and unglamorous look at this condition. And besides his thirst for blood and the healing ability, he's just a normal dude trying to deal with the shitty hand that life has dealt him. I always wonder what other abilities Jacob has that he hasn't discovered yet. Could be a very cool sequel.
HG: Ed, how has being the Co-Creator of Blair Witch changed your view and vision of horror in cinema?
Eduardo Sanchez: Well, it's completely shaped it, really. I wasn't much of a horror person until we did Blair Witch. I mean, I liked horror films, but I didn't give it any special attention. Now, I have to keep my finger on the pulse of what is out there. And because of Blair Witch, I feel like I'm a part of this eclectic family. The fans are so amazing and so dedicated to this genre. It never ceases to surprise me. I feel privileged to be a small part of it.
HG: There are rumblings of another Blair film. What can you tell us?
Eduardo Sanchez: We are as close as we've ever been to making another Blair film a reality, but I really can't say more. And even that doesn't guarantee that another Blair film will be made. It's still very much up in the air. We are making progress, though.